Metro

THOMAS FARRAGHER

The End. Vermont typewriter shop’s closing marks the unrelenting scroll of time

Old-school writers lament the loss of a White River Junction institution

A Remington typewriter on dispaly at a closeout sale at Twin State Typewriter in White River Junction, Vt. Ths store is closing soon.
John Tlumacki/Globe Staff
A Remington typewriter on dispaly at a closeout sale at Twin State Typewriter in White River Junction, Vt. Ths store is closing soon.

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION, Vt. — The quiet man with dark, soulful eyes would creep unassumingly into the simple shop on South Main Street here, carrying a typewriter and a familiar problem.

He wore slacks and a no-nonsense cotton shirt, always paid in cash, and never called attention to himself. But three or four times a year he posed an urgent question.

“Can you fix this?” the acclaimed and famously reclusive author J.D. Salinger wanted to know.

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“We did all of his typewriter repair,’’ Wanda Nalette told me the other day at Twin State Typewriter, where she has worked for nearly a quarter of a century.

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Great writers like Salinger — whose landmark novel, “The Catcher in the Rye,’’ has been an adolescent rite of passage for generations — as well as lesser hunt-and-peck literary lights will soon have to look elsewhere for the dying art of typewriter repair.

Wanda Nalette, 68, and her husband, Don, 74, are preparing to write the final sentence to the story of Twin State Typewriter later this month.

And they are fully prepared for what it will say.

The End.

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“My children all have a manual typewriter. I made sure of that,’’ Wanda said, sitting at her desk at the front of her shop, which holds her beloved 50-year-old typewriter, a Silver Reed EX 55.

“There was a child in here the other day with his mother. And he says, ‘Can I type on this?’ And I said, ‘Sure.’ And he’s typing and he calls his mother over and I heard him say: ‘Where’s the delete button?’ ’’

The Nalettes don’t deal in delete buttons. They are digital age holdouts. Computer? No. Corona? Yes.

Dan Nalette jiggled the cover of a vintage typewriter.
John Tlumacki/Globe Staff
Dan Nalette jiggled the cover of a vintage typewriter.

To roam their shop — which sits here next to the Junction Barber Shop and not far from the railroad station where vintage Green Mountain rail cars roll slowly through town — is to take a step back into the Eisenhower Era.

A 7.6-ounce bottle of Elmer’s glue sells for $4.89. There are ribbon tapes for an old Olivetti and correcting ribbons for an IBM Selectric III. A sturdy black Royal sits on a shelf with this notation: “The @/¢ key not working.’’

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Don Nalette led me on a tour of his shop’s basement, where the remnants of what had been an old social club called the Marconi Club are still visible in a place that is now where old typewriters go to die.

‘This is just another burial ground.’

“This is just another burial ground,’’ he said, reviewing racks of machines that once processed American commerce, when that commerce traveled along sleepy, two-lane roads, not information superhighways.

There’s a Commodore SQ-1000, aPanasonic Jetwriter. An Olympia Report Electric. There are old Royals and Underwoods and Remingtons.

Time is running out. The calendar grows short. And customers are preparing themselves for the end of an era.

“What I like about them is that they deal one-on-one,’’ said Peter Edson, a local contractor whose loyalty to the shop predates the Nalettes’ purchase of it in 2000. “They deal face-to-face. And they’re good people.’’

And Edson is the kind of customer who has kept the Nalettes in business.

He owns no computers. He keeps his business books by longhand.

“A lot of small businesses like doing business with people they trust and where people know them,’’ Edson said. “It’s the old-style business. Unfortunately, the way the world’s going, everything’s going big and fast. Big and fast.’’

Twin State Typewriter is having a “big and fast” moment of its own in its final few weeks before the nearby regional theater company, Northern Stage, buys the two-story, 5,800-square-foot property from the Nalettes to make room for administrative and production offices.

“My customers are calling me, and they’re like: ‘What are we going to do? Where are we going to go?’ ” Wanda Nalette told me as the clock ticked toward closing time one day recently.

The Nalettes make no apology for their refusal to join the digital era. Don pats a nearby laptop that he never uses. Wanda has an old flip phone that she reluctantly turns on so Don can reach her at the grocery store.

Those are the kind of people who typewriter lovers like J.D. Salinger would feel comfortable with.

Dan Nalette went through typewriters kept in the store's basement.
John Tlumacki/Globe Staff
Dan Nalette went through typewriters kept in the store's basement.

“He was a great guy,’’ Wanda Nalette said of the famously reclusive man, who The New York Times called the Garbo of letters when Salinger died in 2010. “He lived probably a half an hour away. A nice man. A wonderful man. He had a Remington, a Royal. And he loved this place.’’

Salinger would regularly buy his ribbons here, and he’d rotate the typewriters he’d bring in for repair, Wanda told me.

“He just trusted the people who worked for us, and he knew the work was going to be done the way he wanted it done,’’ she said.

That attention to detail is what keeps Laura Waterman coming back.

She’s a published author, too. Her first novel is scheduled to come out next spring with the University of Wisconsin Press.

It’s historical fiction based on an American Arctic expedition in the 1880s. The book is called “Salvation Shore,’’ and Waterman wrote it on her trusty 50-year-old Royal.

“There’s something about the heavier action that it takes me to make the typewriter work,’’ she said, trying to explain the allure of words pressed onto the page by a key striking an inked ribbon.

“Those keys pop up. You can see what’s happening. I mean in a different way than you see it electronically on the screen. Much more personal. You’re really involved. You roll in the paper. You scroll it in. You know what’s happened.’’

But the end of the page is approaching for Waterman and for Twin State Typewriter.

“I thought: ‘What’s going to happen to me as a writer?’ ” Waterman, 78, asked as we sat just inside the front door of Nalettes’ store, where the inventory is dwindling. “I’m down here today to have my typewriter put into apple-pie condition. And I’m going to stock up on ribbons.’’

Owner Wanda Nalette lifted a vintage Corona special typewriter off the shelf in the repair room.
John Tlumacki/Globe Staff
Owner Wanda Nalette lifted a vintage Corona special typewriter off the shelf in the repair room.

She knows that pretty soon, when she asks a sales clerk for a ribbon, she’ll be directed to the arts and crafts aisle.

All of it has the makings of a melancholy short story.

It could be the tale of a beloved machine — once a fixture on every office desk — that atrophied into an anachronism, useful now as a prop in a period movie, or a piece in a museum.

Its devoted followers here are determined to keep their sturdy writing companion alive as long as they can still pound the keys and hear the bell that calls for another carriage return.

Then they’ll tap out another line of type. More ink pressed into a piece of paper. Something they’re certain is more durable and more tactile than alphabetic pixels dancing across a bright electronic screen.

A couple paused at the entrance to the store.
John Tlumacki/Globe Staff
A couple paused at the entrance to the store.

Thomas Farragher is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at thomas.farragher@globe.com.